Little in the life of an avid baseball fan is more exciting than the arrival of spring. Truck Day provides a taste of joyous release from the seemingly endless snowy bondage and the entire world seems to sing of optimism as spring training truly begins. February also heralds the beginning of the college baseball season. This gives teams like the Detroit Tigers, who are not expecting to be competitive at the major league level, something to be excited over as well.
The new season is some players' last chance to make a good impression on MLB who may be interested in them. Here are some of the more interesting players that the college ranks have to offer to teams when the Rule 4 Amateur Draft rolls around in June.
Brady Singer, RHP, Florida
Singer is the consensus best player in the 2017 draft. He has always been a legitimate prospect, but didn't sign in 2015 when the Toronto Blue Jays took him in the second round. They docked their contract offer when his physical turned up some concerning results, including a somewhat violent delivery. While Singer’s angle adds deception and he shows above-average command, the motion puts undue strain on his arm.
Singer’s bread and butter are two pitches that approach double-plus, in a fastball and slider. The heater doesn't have the pure power and velocity of the ones thrown by Shohei Ohtani or Micheal Kopech, but Singer pairs it with such wicked movement and decent command that it becomes a legitimate swing-and-miss offering. The slider is a capable breaking ball, showing the depth and velocity of a true put-away pitch.
Singer induces so many whiffs on his first two pitches that he hasn't needed a changeup much to this point. He will need to work on refining it as he climbs the pro ranks. If he continues to spot the ball well and stays healthy in 2017, there is little to prevent him from being 2018's top pick.
Jackson Kowar, RHP, Florida
Making good use of his 6'5 frame, Kowar deals a mid-90s fastball that can reach 98 miles per hour at times. While the pitch has velocity, it can straighten up a bit at times. Unlike many who throw that hard, Kowar has an easy, repeatable motion that doesn't raise any red flags concerning his health. He backs up that blazing fastball with a changeup that is already a plus pitch. His third pitch is a curveball. It's above average at times but still far behind the other two.
Free from the elbow and shoulder problems that plague so many, the issue that this flamethrower faces is not related to his game on the field. Suffering from a collapsed lung twice, once in high school and once his sophomore year at Florida, Kowar underwent preventative surgery last season. If the issue resurfaces, that may cause more problems than a traditional orthopedic injury.
Casey Mize, RHP, Auburn
Mize may not have the public recognition of some, but there are few players that scouts love more than Auburn's ace. An unknown coming out of high school, Mize has completely transformed himself over the last three years. He has added a few miles per hour on the fastball to make it a plus pitch, and a tightened slider gives him another above-average offering.
Neither are what put Mize above the competition, though. Ditching a weak changeup, he picked up a splitter and is much better for it. It is better than both his heater and his breaking ball, diving at the plate and inducing ground balls, weak contact, and whiffs. Approaching every at-bat with aggression and confidence, Mize uses his combination of stuff and plus command take control of any situation. MLB.com notes that he has a particularly remarkable ability to spot his mid-90s fastball despite its running life.
The only thing Mize has to do in order to establish himself as a top draft pick is stay healthy. He has a poor track record in this regard, but his past injuries all seem fluky. If they are, the team that drafts Mize could have a gem on their hands.
Joey Bart, C, Georgia Tech
Everyone who has seen Bart agrees: the power is real. Standing 6'3 and weighing 225 pounds, Bart is handcrafted to hit home runs. We are just a couple weeks into his season at Georgia Tech and he already has three home runs and added a double for good measure. Wayne Cavadi of Minor League Ball saw Bart play earlier this month and came away impressed.
At the plate, Bart is aggressive, and attacks at any pitch he sees. ... He does make contact, and it is seemingly always hard. Bart swung at the first pitch in the four at bats I saw. He took the first pitch he was offered on the day over the right center wall, so clearly his power is to all fields. Later in the game he roped a ground ball that hugged the third base line and went into left field. He legged out a double, and can really move for someone his size.
There were once doubts that Bart could stick behind the plate — he has roughly the same build as Zack Collins of the White Sox — but those fears have been put to rest. His defensive actions have improved immensely over the last two years and he is now considered an average defender. That is aided by a cannon of an arm that has proved to be a real asset. Unless prep catcher Will Banfield surprises this spring, Bart should be the first backstop off the board.
Nick Madrigal, 2B, Oregon State
Once a shortstop, Madrigal has shifted to second base during his time at college. This is by no means due to his shortcomings, but instead to allow room for defensive wizard Cadyn Grenier at the premium position. As a pro, Madrigal could move back to left side of the bag, but teams might also consider keeping him at second or transforming him into a center fielder. He has the range and hands to be excellent at any position, but his arm could be a bit challenged at short.
While he contributes quite a bit of value on the dirt, Madrigal is also a capable hitter. He brings plus contact skills to the table. Despite having below average power, he can also take extra bases on line drives thanks to plus wheels. Madrigal hit .380/.449/.532 last season as a sophomore, and walked 9.6 percent of the time while only striking out at a 5.7 percent clip. A broken left wrist may slow him down this season, but he has the skills to be drafted in the top five.
Jeremy Eierman, SS, Missouri State
Eierman is able to perform both at the plate and with a glove. He doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses, a major strength in itself. He plays shortstop for now, and he is adequate there. He doesn't have the defensive capabilities of some, but he does have above-average speed that translates to good range at the position. He also makes up for any shortcomings with the rifle attached to his right shoulder.
In the box, Eierman takes powerful swings and makes contact more often than not. While neither his hit or raw power are plus tools, they enable him to be an offensive threat. He tattooed 20 home runs during the 2017 season, and added 15 doubles while getting on base at an impressive clip. These skills will translate well to pro ball. While some think he may have to move to third, he could be a spectacular defender there, and has the bat to support the transition to a corner.
Griffin Conine, OF, Duke
Much like Eierman, one would be hard-pressed to find a part of Griffin Conine's game that looks like a major issue long-term. With power similar to that of current Tigers prospect Christin Stewart, MLB.com cites Conine’s high bat speed and good launch angle as sources of his ability to hit home runs.
Far from a one-dimensional hitter, Conine supplements his high-powered swing with the eye patience to draw walks, working counts and letting go pitches he can't hit. He has some swing-and-miss problems when he gets overly eager, but he doesn't rack up strikeouts in bunches, and draws enough free passes to make up for the times he does whiff.
Conine also provides value on the other side of the ball. A right fielder with solid arm strength and above-average glovework, he is an average runner that makes good use of his unspectacular speed. The only drawback to his defense is that, while he may be able to play center field passably in an emergency, his home will have to be in a corner.